Meet the latest addition to the government’s imagined cast of taxpayer-dollar-spending villains: the new mother.
Who knew that underneath all the vomit-stained active wear was a greedy fraudster claiming more than four months off work to spend with her newborn child? That the woman stomping up and down your street in the middle of the night, shushing a wailing bundle, is actually in the midst of a terrible rort?
I was particularly surprised to see this new rogue exposed, as I am one of the dastardly double-dippers. I’m not talking about sneaking a second scoop of hummus; I’m talking about those recently maligned new parents, the majority of whom are women, who have access to both the government paid parental leave scheme and an employer-funded entitlement.
I am able to take more than the government-funded 18 weeks off work, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a rort to me. I breastfeed six times a day, so if I had to go back to work next week, I’d be spending a significant chunk of the day crouched in the corner of a meeting room strapped to a breast-pump (a device that – for those who have never seen one – resembles something you’d expect to find in an industrial dairy). I’d like to see Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott give that a go and still insist it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation to have of women.
There are other practical considerations. I’ve been on the waiting list for childcare spots for over a year and have been advised there is little hope of a place before 2016. I’m all for teaching my son resilience and independence, but I reckon child protection would have something to say if I left him at home alone with a plastic giraffe and a box of wipes.
But, insist the men of the Coalition, childcare is about to get a boost. Well, that’s great, but while the childcare package is a good start, it will not fix a vastly underfunded system overnight. In any case, why should women only get one policy?
Paid parental leave, better childcare, policies that promote equal caring responsibilities between men and women, robust responses to workplace discrimination and a well-resourced domestic violence strategy are all required to realise women’s human rights and promote equality in the workplace. We shouldn’t be required to trade one off for the other.
Apparently it’s a question of fairness. In fact, according to Morrison, women such as me “wouldn’t know fairness if it fell on us”. You couldn’t blame us; the government only wised up recently itself. Until February of this year, the Coalition’s position was that 18 weeks of leave was inadequate.
For years, Abbott insisted that paid parental leave was a workplace entitlement, not a welfare payment. As is the case with Workcover, women should be able to access parental leave at the same rate as their income. Abbott was right to insist on this approach to parental leave. It is the approach taken in almost every other OECD country. Is his memory really so short?
To accuse new mothers of being “unfair” is both nasty and disingenuous. When the paid parental leave law was passed with bipartisan support in 2010, it was openly acknowledged that 18 weeks was an absolute minimum and the intention was that employers would top up government payments.
The sudden insistence that all women, rich or poor, should only be able to access the same low entitlement takes the government on a curious and uncharacteristically egalitarian turn. But if the government really cared about fairness, it would progress gender and economic equality by raising the standard for all women, not cutting entitlements for about 50 per cent of women who can access both government and employee entitlements.
Paid parental leave was the Coalition’s primary election promise to women. Not only has Abbott, the self-appointed Minister for Women, abandoned his promise, but now he is diminishing the very scheme he acknowledged was inadequate.
The proposal should be unacceptable to Australian women and men. So pass the hummus. It’s time to double dip.
Rachel Ball is a lawyer on parental leave from the Human Rights Law Centre. You can follow her on Twitter @RachelHRLC